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Cities, Land Use, and Property Rights

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For the first time in history we are seeing the emergence of vast cities in places that are both poor and, sadly, often also poorly governed. These megacities offer both tremendous possibilities of economic prosperity, growth, and development, but also enormous challenges including the spread of contagious disease, traffic congestion, and violent crime. Getting these cities right may be the most important challenge of the 21st century.

The city’s land is the starting point—and the critical thing for land is creating a system of formal titles. If you are ever going to fund a city, you need property ownership to get property taxes. If you are going to have regulations that require people to use sanitary facilities, you need to have ownership as well. And if you’re going to empower ordinary citizens to change their city, they need to have a sense of owning it. Formal title is critical to housing and infrastructure, firm growth and employment, and municipal finance and urban governance.

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